FOXBOROUGH — Smoldering still after Sunday’s 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was resolute in his attempt to put the bitterly disappointing setback behind him.
“It’s always a crash landing when it happens in the playoffs like this,’’ Belichick said Monday at Gillette Stadium, where he conducted a wrapup news conference following a 13-5 season in which all five losses came on the road.
“We have to turn the page and move on,’’ he said.
When the team’s flight from Denver touched down around midnight at Providence’s T.F. Green Airport, Belichick knew it was a new day and that he had to hit the ground running.
“It’s not really the way you want it, but that’s the reality of it,’’ he said.
Belichick did not want to dwell on the past beyond his scathing description of Wes Welker’s midfield collision with Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib as “one of the worst plays I’ve seen.’’
He said he would let the National Football League handle that matter and that he would focus on the future of the franchise.
“When your season goes into postseason like ours did for three weeks, you’re behind going into the college draft and, to a certain degree, the free agency process,’’ Belichick said. “To be honest with you, we’re into the 2014 season right now and we’re behind, so we’ve got some catching up to do.
“It’s a good position to be in, but it’s a bad position to be in. When your season ends on the last day — Dec. 30, whatever it was — then you have those extra three weeks to get caught up on the college draft and get caught up on some other things.
“We’ve been trying to win games in the postseason, so now we’re actually behind there. The slower time in the NFL is mid-June to mid-July. It’s similar to the college season. Those guys end their season and they start over by recruiting.
“That’s just the nature of the schedule.’’
With player evaluations to conduct before making roster decisions on free agents such as Talib, running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Julian Edelman, and linebacker Brandon Spikes, Belichick said time was of the essence.
Any time spent watching the Super Bowl between the Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks would be counterproductive.
“I’m going to get started getting caught up on the draft, go to the Senior Bowl, and do the type of things I can do to try and help our team address the next round of opportunities to improve this football team,’’ he said.
“So the better prepared I am for Indianapolis [and the scouting combine], the more productive that will be. The better prepared I and we are for free agency, the more productive that will be and the better decisions we’ll make and so forth.
“I think it’s easy to say we’ll wait and deal with this all later, but every time you miss an opportunity to improve your team, somewhere along the line it will show up. It might be in November and it might be December, but it might not be in April or March, necessarily.
“It will probably show up somewhere else down the line and we’ll try not to let that happen to the best of our ability.’’
Asked how much he dwelled during the flight home on things he could have done better in the AFC Championship — the Patriots’ third consecutive appearance in the game — Belichick said, “I think you try to make the best decisions you can. Whatever the results are, they are.
“If you feel like you make a mistake on that after you analyzed it — which, again, nobody makes more mistakes around here than I do, I’ll be the first to admit that — that you look back on them and you say, ‘OK, what could I have done differently? What will I do the next time?’ And you put that in the bank.
“Hopefully, that situation comes around the next time, you’ll feel better about the decision you make. When you compete in a game and have 160, 170, 180, 190 plays, however many plays in the game, and you look at the preparation on those things, there are always things you look at and you can do better.
“There’s never been a game that I felt like everything went perfectly.”
Against the Broncos, nothing seemed to go right for the Patriots, who sputtered offensively to get their running game going and were forced to rely on the less-than-pinpoint passing of Tom Brady.
Defensively, the Patriots were unable to generate much of a pass rush on Peyton Manning, who threw for 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns to spearhead an offense that rolled up a gaudy 507 yards total. New England’s inability to stop Manning was exacerbated by Talib’s departure early in the second quarter after he injured his knee in the collision with Welker.
Despite that calamitous setback to their secondary, the Patriots continued to fight, “where it could’ve been potentially a very competitive situation there, with four minutes left in the game,’’ Belichick said.
But when the Patriots failed to make a 2-point conversion following Brady’s 5-yard touchdown run with 3:07 left, it was readily apparent the game was in hand for the Broncos.
“All the other games have literally came down to the last play, so we played very competitively all year,’’ Belichick said. “We came up short five times. I wish we could’ve done a better job in any of those games, especially the one [Sunday], but that was our season.
“I’m proud of what our players did and what our team did, but we came up short and that’s not our goal. We’re going to continue to work towards a higher level of performance, starting with me, our coaching staff, our players.
“We’re starting all over again. That’s where we are in 2014.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.